American Pharoah (hors kant spel?) won the Belmont Stakes and completed the triple crown, and my wife was recently in Kentucky, oddly enough, and even dropping down a ‘fecta or two at Churchill Downs. That was plenty enough inspiration for me to casually look up the venerable James Wyllie.

Moore on Horse

Wyllie was many things before a cowboy and he was not young when I took several of his equestrian classes at Pepperdine University in the 1990’s,1 so I half expected Google to tell me that he had already ridden some phantom quarter horse into the great unknown. I was delighted to read instead that he is not only still kicking, but also still providing equestrian instruction at the spritely young age of 96.

Physical Education classes are jokes, right? Some are but there are notable exceptions. Joe Nickerson’s Physical Education class at the now defunct Chatham High School was a case study in Darwinism on a level not often seen in today’s litigation-targeted public schools. I carry a reverse dent in my skull from my freshman year indoor soccer campaign. Patti Bright’s2 5:45AM Aerobics and Lifetime Fitness required impressive kickboarding next to early morning Division I water polo practices, and her final was the famous timed mile run. Finish in time or take the class again. Fly, fat ass, fly! And Jim Wyllie’s EQ 1, 2, and 3 were no joke. I witnessed supposed adults crying real tears, horses throwing off riders, and even a rather significant injury requiring an ambulance. It wasn’t for everyone and that’s part of what made it great.3

Wyllie eyeballed my class on the first day, introduced himself as Jim (though no one I knew called him anything but “Mr. Wyllie”), said we should probably follow him now, and proceeded to lead us through the stable as he dropped bombs of excellent advice and biographical tidbits on us. Which horses bite? All horses bite. Some bite harder or more frequently, but they all will bite. Which horses kick? All horses kick. Some kick with the front legs more, but they all will kick.4  What’s more dangerous, riding a horse up a narrow trail on a mountain or riding a horse across an open field? It’s the field. You’ll learn why. Put on a helmet. Get a crop. Pretend the crop is a tennis racket when you swing it. Don’t wear shorts. Consider a jockstrap if you have any balls you like. Ronald Reagan was my neighbor and remains my friend; he is not all that smart, but he’s a great horseman. He can point a horse in a direction and keep it there. If you don’t think for the horse, the horse will think for itself and that seldom ends well for either of you. I used to fly planes in WWII; you don’t fall as far from a horse. All excellent advice. All excellent stories. Never a dull class.

He then assigned us our particular horses for the duration of the course, apparently by our weight. I’m still not sure. I got Cosack (one s), a white half something and half something else I think… maybe Arabian, maybe quarter horse, or maybe donkey. I asked Wyllie whether the beast’s name was pronounced Ko-sack or Coss-ack. Wyllie said I should defer to the horse’s preference, but that I shouldn’t waste too much time talking to the horse as it was perhaps the least effective means of communication. Horses respond well to touch and life is a contact sport. You’ll find that humans often do as well. Invariably you’ll be in a wonderful or a terrible situation with a person where you have no idea what to say. Touch them instead of saying something stupid.

Some horses are unlucky. Sham, son of Pretense… forever second to Secretariat… was cursed. Great name, great speed, great looks, but born the wrong year; he died alone in his stall. Some even claim his head ended up in someone’s bed to make a point. Racing today, Sham had the times to beat ANY horse running; one year either way, Sham is a household horse name. Pepperdine had great horses because people (well… rich people) often buy great horses, can’t figure them out, get pissed4.5 when the horse kicks them or throws their kid in the cactus, and then put them down (the horse!) if the horse is unlucky, or sell or donate them to someone else if the horse is less unlucky.  Cosack had several cracked teeth, I assume from  a previous owner. Rescued by Wyllie rather than turned into glue, he now had a second career carrying amateur cow-people up into the Santa Monica Mountains or down into Malibu Canyon. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

All horses bite. Knowing this did not inspire confidence in the freshman trying to put a curb bit in Cosack’s mouth. To put in a bit, you have to jam your fingers into the side of a large animal’s mouth and open its jaws by grabbing its tongue, so you can then lay the bit in the space between the sharp front teeth and the crushing back teeth. Like installing Linux before Ubuntu, it’s not particularly hard once you’ve done it, but it’s decidedly character building your first time.

Riding a horse up the rocky Santa Monica mountain trails behind Pepperdine or across Alumni Park with the Pacific Ocean and Point Dume in the distance is a decidedly cool one credit class. Wild fires routinely burn down the arid underbrush and every 5 years or so the clouds open and the mountains sport more flowers than dried sticks. Tarantula holes are just off the path. There are probably rattlesnakes, but I never saw one. Catalina pokes out at times in the distance when the Santa Ana winds blow enough smog away. There’s a one hole golf course in Alumni Park (better than many 18 hole courses), and it’s the only fairway I know that you can ride a horse down without getting yelled at. With a horse in a canter (I never learned to gallop), I thought more than once that maybe it would be cool to become the world’s biggest jockey. And this was long before Shaq on Chunk o’ Luv in the greatest Super Bowl commercial ever. 

Horses are remarkably powerful but like most powerful things, they’re inevitably dying of something vaguely foul and usually incurable.5 There are, of course, the catastrophic impacts and broken, shattered limbs from slips or poor placements at speed, but if you spend any time at all around a stable (even a couple days a week of a few semesters), you’ll meet up with the slower, more insidious miasma of illnesses… foul feet, foul lips, foul skin, intestinal disorders of any and all variety and magnitude. Horses are impossibly hard to keep healthy, and until recently, the most successful means to combat this rather miserable fact reduced down to having a stable full of horses at various ages and stages of broken. One of the saddest things I ever saw was one of Wyllie’s favorite horses laying down in its final days on a pile of straw. The horse had carried Wyllie in a long, famous endurance land race through the night out of Tahoe and won him a silver buckle or something. A marathon running horse he was, only it was much farther than a marathon and this runner ran the race under a blanket while carrying someone else’s ass on his back. Now he might with agonizing effort get up and take another step. He might not. Sometime that semester he didn’t.

Learned a lot in that class.

1I guess they shuttered the stable and discontinued the equestrian classes at Pepperdine in 2001. That’s an absolute fucking shame.

2Patti Brite’s “Aerobics and Lifetime Fitness” was no joke either, but that’s for another time. Died in 2004. Another absolute fucking shame.

3Yet Wyllie used to also run a program for handicapped children to ride horses. He had an ability to discern what someone was capable of doing, and then he made that person do it. It sounds so simple; it isn’t.

4Where can you stand that a horse can’t kick you? Basically nowhere near it, but on its back is the best, or really close, or really far. Horses can kick forwards, to the side, and to the rear. They can also crush you against a wall or a tree. If you’re on the back of a horse, you can get kicked by another horse. Being around horses is fun as hell, but it’s probably dumb.

4.5All horses also piss. The first time I saw Cosack, Wyllie basically said words to the effect of, “here’s a blanket and a shit load of leather; tack your horse.” I’ve been able to tack a sailboat if necessary, but never a horse. I screwed it up. I put the blanket pad (really a spacer for the horse’s comfort, not heat) on, put the saddle on, cinched the belt, and then stopped as the horse pissed down my leg. If you’ve never been pissed on by a gelding, don’t go out of your way to experience it, but if you have, welcome to a club with few admitted members.

5The drugs, the cheating, the perpetuating of questionable genes masked by performance enhancing chemicals. Horse racing and the NFL are a mess. Offensive lineman and race horses die younger than most.

6Camp David Gonzales

Marblehead Carnival

cropped-abbyswing.jpgIt is Abigail’s favorite time of the year. Better than Christmas, better than Hanukkah, better than birthdays… it’s the magnificent charitable rip-off known as the Marblehead Devereux Beach Carnival.

Tickets are a dollar each, little rides are 3 tickets, “big” rides that make you question the safety of frequently-moved carney rides are 4 tickets, and all rides last roughly 34 seconds. Throw in the fact that Abby needs an adult with her on big rides and the money burn rate is impressive.

The dart game is $5; the rubber turtle we won retails for 5 cents. The magnetic duckling fishing game is $3; the plastic shark prizes retail for 4 cents. The cotton candy is $4; there is no U.S. currency low enough to represent the manufacturing costs of such a small portion of cotton candy.

Still… Abby’s excitement over the carnival (and her susceptibility to parental good behavior blackmail related to its arrival) is priceless. “Didn’t do your kindergarten homework? No carnival for you! Didn’t eat your vegetables? No carnival for you! Didn’t repaint the house? NO CARNIVAL FOR YOU!!

Brady waterslide excited is too excited.
Brady waterslide excited is too excited.

Jackson, however, remains an uncooperative carnival skeptic. He will only go on “safe” rides and eyes most of the carnival experience suspiciously… if not with outright hostility. Carnival blackmail does not work on Jackson at this point. “You had better stop tackling your sister, Jackson, or no carnival for you!,” will get you a small person shrug and a, “I don’t want to go to Carnival. Carnival is not so good. Carnival for girls and doo doo heads.”

Carnival will probably never be Brady Waterslide exciting (or even fishbuckets exciting!) for Jackson… that is until carnival unveils the dinosaur fishbucket ride. There is no doubt in my mind that they are working on such a ride right now. Somewhere sits an older crusted carney, smoking a camel, leaning over a wooden crate and drawing dinosaur fishbucket ride blue prints with axle greased hands on the back of a napkin.

Abby Joins Team Freedom!

Freedom is an apt name for Abby’s soccer team. Six-year-olds playing soccer are free from direction, free from organization, free from trapping before kicking, free from going toward the proper soccer goal… freedom for all!

I had fun putting on Abby’s shin guards. Abby had fun playing soccer. Even Jackson had fun (after an initial protest involving kicking AND screaming) chilling in the playground sand pit with a girlfriend from preschool, so soccer is working out for everyone.

The only downside was that another obvious sign that I’m officially old popped up. When one of the kids connected her foot to the soccer ball successfully, I said, “PELE!,” which was met by silence. Apparently Pele is not as well known to this generation… or maybe even the previous one… because most people just stared. I’m trying “RONALDO!” next time with a backup plan of just “awesome job everyone!”

Museum of Science Visit

Abby, Max, and Jackson visited the Museum of Science in Boston today. Real dinosaurs! 4d movie! Chicks hatching out of eggs! Free tickets from our neighbor! There was truly something for everyone.


Cubano Progression

Obama hints at normalized Cuban relations.

We see Chef.
We see Chef.

El Jefe Marinated Pork Shoulder

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup cilantro
1 Tbsp. finely-grated orange zest
1 cup fresh orange juice
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup lightly packed mint leaves, finely chopped
Bunch of garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. minced oregano
2 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt and pepper
3 ½ lbs. boneless pork shoulder, in one piece

So I might be going to yoga…

Update March 2015: No yoga. Not going to be any yoga.
Update January 2015: Microdiscectomy on L4/L5.
Update December 2014: Herniated disc in back.

One of the key benefits of getting older is that your body gets smarter. The more miles I run, the more my body has learned to use the smallest number of muscles necessary to run. This efficiency results in a few comparatively powerful muscles working like iPhone assembly wage slaves while a whole bunch of atrophied muscles sit around eating Jax and cheering on the effort. “Woot,” yells latissimus. “You go, hamstrings! Woooot!”

Eventually, however, my head will overwhelm the working muscles with increased demands without increased recovery time and the working muscles will tire and finally call upon the no-twitch muscles for some support. This ends poorly for me. Latissimus, or some other welfare-sucking muscle, jumps off the couch, spills his beer, sprints to the door, and promptly tears himself in half. Every witness nerve pisses himself. Pain wakes up, flicks open her eyes, and shouts, “holy shit! Did someone just kill Latissimus!? What the fucking fuck!?” Surrounding muscles panic and spasm. It’s a real messy shit show.

So then my back hurts and it’s hard to do anything strenuous, like stand up or lift a glass of water. After a couple days of ibuprofen or naproxen, I’ll overlook the awkwardness of my doctor’s last vigorous prostrate examination and make an appointment. We’ll see how that goes.

Yoga might be better…  dark yoga. Not “am I sweating because of the workout or because it’s 90 degrees in here” yoga, but a new yoga. Which flavor of yoga throws out all of these concepts of calm ohm community and harnesses chi instead for personal gain? How does one channel chi to smite competitors? Where can I get a red light saber?

2014 Back the Track 5K

Ran the 2014 Back the Track 5K to help raise funds to build a new running track in Marblehead. Was trying to break 19 mins, but the start of the race was a bit of a crowded scene and someone fell down, so I’m blaming the extra 9 seconds on that! Finished in 19:08 for about 6:10 mile pace.

Real highlight was having a beer with near Shalane Flanagan anyway!

Shalane Flanagan – Olympic Bronze Medalist and future winner of Boston Marathon


Baystate Marathon 2014

The Good:

  • Personal Record of 3:21:41! (Better is better.)
  • Finished the race feeling a little less bad than last year!
  • Was on pace for BQ until leg cramps and old age combined in a spectacular pincer movement to restore me to a more appropriate running pace.
  • Great weather and occasional views of river and fast food!
  • Lunch with my wife! Great support team!

The Bad:

  • No Boston Qualifier. Missed Boston qualifying time by 6:41.
  • Leg cramps came on again late in the race. I could actually hear my hamstring say to my quadricep, “there is NO grizzly or polar bear chasing us! I repeat: there is NO PREDATOR chasing us, so clearly we need to stop this foolishness! Cramp… CRAMP now!”
  • Do not look at any pictures of me running this race. Every time I saw a camera person something was going wrong.

Here are the mile Splits. Can you tell where bad stuff happened?

1 – 7:21.5
2 – 7:09.5
3 – 7:20.8
4 – 7:22.2
5 – 7:27.1
6 – 7:18.3
7 – 7:18.0
8 – 7:10.4
9 – 7:09.5
10 – 7:09.9
11 – 7:18.8
12 – 7:12.3
13 – 7:10.0
14 – 7:21.8
15 – 7:21.7
16 – 7:33.0
17 – 7:43.3
18 – 7:38.4
19 – 7:16.8
20 – 7:36.1
21 – 10:33.5 (Thank you, kind spectator, for throwing me a gu!)
22 – 8:17.6
23 – 8:05.0
24 – 8:27.1
25 – 8:30.0
26 – 8:04.3
27 – 3:37.9 (forgot to stop watch at end of race).

NERC 10 Mile Road Race

Sunday, June 22nd was the first New England Running Company 10 Mile Road Race which is not only a very long race title but also the third race in the New England Running Company Road Race Series.

Watch your back in the late miles!
Watch your back in the late miles!

This is another race I did not win. No socks or gift certificates materialized for my efforts, but they did have Bagel World bagels and I did manage to catch and pass a runner who was ahead of me for 9 of the 10 miles, so there IS that bit of consolation prizeness to take home with me!

I imagine this late race, soul-crushing conquest is similar to what a cheetah feels upon catching  a winded, cramping antelope on the Serengeti. Actually, cheetah is a stretch. It’s more like the ecstasy a two-toed sloth experiences while patiently peeling a ripe, freckled banana after an exhausting fifty minute stalk and pounce. But hey, baby… a kill is a kill and no hyena (or painted-ass gibbon) is getting mine without a fight.

The race itself was scenic with some water views, if a bit hilly and circuitous at times. The route was not closed to traffic and the track was Beyonce curvy, so those inclined to run the tangents would have to disregard automobiles Yellowstone bison-style to do so. Organization was good, parking was easy, and there were either police details or race volunteers at mandatory road crossings and forks. Solid local race; I’d run it again… especially if I was assured that my age group would be slower next time.

For future reference, if you fill out a form (next year, since it’s too late this year!) and then run all the races in the NERC series, you earn a Brooks running jacket. Yes, you could also run none of the races and take the approximately $240 in race fees you’d save by staying home eating freeze pops, and just order yourself a Brooks running jacket in the color and size of your choice with free Prime shipping from Amazon to your leather lounger… but THAT is not really the point, smartass. And frankly, while you’re collecting slick threads and acting like a wannabe clothes horse, you should probably consider participating in the Strider Grand Prix as well, since that can secure you more important garb.

Form Voltron!
Form Voltron!

However you amass your running wardrobe, I would encourage all of you to collect enough Strider-emblazoned garb that you have some relatively clean club wear available for all races. Strength lies in fashionable numbers and free advertising, people!

I failed to win anything at this race or to run 4 minute miles (despite undergoing frequent Fernando track torture and dedicated PED use), but also galling was the large number of clearly-marked Wicked Running Club runners in attendance, as all of these extroverts wore flashy red, somewhat angry feline-logoed uniforms. Yes, they were nice people. Yes, they were encouraging to all runners regardless of club affiliation. Yes, they may have saved some plump tabby cat from a massive maple tree (I mean they’re kind of obligated, right?). Yes, yes, yes… but none of this makes up for the fact that they arrived in snazzy matching club uniforms and looked like they might form Voltron (or at least a roadside billboard) at any moment.

Now that we have a spanking new singlet design, Striders have a great opportunity to pour a little more blue into that sea of wicked red. For my part, I poured more The Substance Ale (thanks, Lindsey!) into my gullet after this race. I highly recommend it; it’s just below Heady Topper on the libation depth chart.

Chelsea Chase Recap

The Chelsea Chase (results) is a value race. 30 bucks or so scores you a technical running shirt, the usual bag swag, two adult beverage tickets, a buffet lunch, and the unique privilege of taking part in a running route that breaks many agreed-upon laws of physics and geography. Despite being an out and back loop, the route gains some 20,000 feet of elevation. It’s uncanny.

I don’t know how the organizers managed it, but the entire circuit leads stubbornly uphill. The starting line is down near sea level with sea gulls enjoying snacks in a Market Basket parking lot, but less than a mile into the run you find yourself well above the tree line with sparse vegetation limited to mountain blueberry bushes and hardy lichens clinging to glacial boulders; on a clear day you can probably look down from the finish line and see the Prudential Center Spire, the Hancock Tower observation level, and perhaps even what is on sale in the window of the gift shop at Story Land. Truly remarkable!

Uphill both ways and the route avoids a brewery. Tsk Tsk.
Uphill both ways and the route avoids a perfectly good brewery. Let’s make some modifications.

Carnivale d’Offderippe!

This picture illustrates much of what we learned at this year’s beach carnival visit.

Joy, anger, looking where you've been, and the giant on the swing.
Joy, anger, looking where you’ve been, and the menacing giant on the child swing.

So what’s going on here? In no particular order:

  • Abby meets her first Boston driver.
  • Abby discovers that “scary” rides are actually how she rolls. Too much success on this swing ride resulted in quick escalation to all multiple-gravity rides short of the Zipper.
  • I’m pretty sure this particular ride stole all the chains from the Hellraiser set. Anger Pinhead at your peril, Carnies…
  • The child in blue halfway through the gate is enduring the bitter public humiliation of being a “big boy” not able to overcome the Darwinian suspicion that Carnie ride maintenance should not be trusted. Take heart, keen-witted coward, you may be crying now, but you have an excellent chance to outlive all those other kids mindlessly hopping onboard duct taped machinery.
  • The “you must be this tall” sign is strictly enforced these days, but Abby’s super power is incredible on-demand vertical stretching. Take that, safety enforcers! Abby can shrink to 32 inches to get into museums for free, and then instantly grow to 42 inches to get on to big kid rides.
  • We thought a couple trips to the carnival would be good for cheap thrills; instead, we dropped a C-note in about an hour and have nothing to show for it but heightened whining from two kids who want to go back. We’re opening a daycare carnival as soon as possible. It will make billions of dollars… billions and billions of dollars.